â When the old Plymouth movie theater off Mechanic Street was torn down in the 1970s, a 1938 film providing a glimpse into the city's post-depression economy was also lost. Or so it seemed.The 40-minute-film, âIt Happened in Leominster,â spent the next 73 years on Martha's Vineyard, stashed in the home of the man who bought most of the contents of the Plymouth theater before it was demolished. Now through the combined and sometimes frustrating efforts of several city organizations, the film has been returned and restored.
Viewers will get a firsthand look at how Leominster looked when its many mills and plastic factories were buzzing night and day.
But getting the film back to Leominster took years of research â along with many letters and telephone calls â culminating in September with a plane trip from the Fitchburg airport to the Vineyard to fetch the film from Benjamin âBuzzâ Hall, a Vineyard theater owner and film buff who bought the rolls from the Plymouth theater nearly 40 years ago.
The four rolls of old 35- millimeter film are coated with flammable nitrate, they were too dangerous to send through the mail. However, they are in good condition, he said, and were taken in October to a film laboratory in Hartford where they were transformed to a digital format.
Eventually, after a lengthy chat with Mr. Hall's secretary, Leominster won out and Mr. Hall agreed to hand over the film. He even met Mr. Piermarini on the airstrip in Edgartown for the exchange.
The historical groups heard of the film years ago while putting together a book that included photographs and news clippings.
âYou just kept hearing about this film, and then it would be put on the back burner because we got no response,â Mr. Piermarini said. âBut Dean Mazzarella, mayor of Leominster, kept mentioning that we should keep trying before it gets lost forever, or something happens to the guy who bought it.â
âIt Happened In Leominsterâ is one of a series of Hollywood-produced promotional films, all with the same title but a different city name, about post-Depression mill towns flourishing in the East. They were meant to showcase thriving local economies, Mr. Piermarini said.
The films, which all had a set âboy meets girlâ script, were made by Edwin Cooper, who had several big hits under his belt, and had a role in the 1981 hit âRagtime.â The lead actress was Ava Thomas, but locals were cast as extras and for minor roles. An October 1938 newspaper had a call for castings advertisement, and later, an ad for the movie, which ran for five days.